Court Officials: Clark County Violating Seal Rules

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Court administrators say judges and local attorneys working in Clark County courts have violated or misinterpreted rules for sealing cases, more than one year after the Nevada Supreme Court imposed new rules to help keep court records open.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal review of 109 court documents filed since the new rules took effect in January 2008 found several violations, including documents stayed sealed after cases were closed, information ordered redacted that was never erased, some documents not properly titled to show public that it was sealed and the court's computer system missing records pertaining to sealed cases.

Clark County Civil Court Presiding Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez says the county is still working on implementing the rules.

"We are moving forward," Gonzalez said. "We have issues we are trying to identify, but they are small bumps in the road compared to the level of sealing we had before."

Brent Adams, a Washoe County District Court judge who led a committee that wrote the sealing rules adopted by the Supreme Court, said the rules are not hard to follow.

"We are not trying to crack the secret formula for Coke," Adams said. "It's a simple, straightforward process used in many other jurisdictions."

Adams would not comment on Clark County's efforts to follow the new rules.

Gonzalez said judges made mistakes and the court computer had problems, but said local attorneys are responsible for redacting information when ordered and for titling documents.

"Part of our jobs as judges is to protect those who need to be protected (by sealing documents), but I have judges who are still not sure of the rules," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the court is replacing its computer system, which kept closed cases under seal if a judge never ruled the documents unsealed before the case ended.

Adams said the court is responsible for following the sealing rules, not lawyers or their clients.

Lucy Dalgish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said a previous practice of sealing entire cases was illegal, prompting the Nevada Supreme Court to change its rules.

Dalgish said the new rules help court records stay public.

"Secret justice is a bad idea," Dalgish said. "The only way we know we are being treated fairly by the ultimate arbiter of democracy is if we are able to see what they are doing."
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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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